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Turtles/Hermanns Tortoise Question!


Hi there! I have a Hermanns Tortoise, he is currently living in a quite spacious tank and eats roughly at 6pm each day. His diet consists of mostly lettuce, but sometimes cabbage, kale and cucumber, every so often we add a mineral supplement called 'Vionate' to his dish. He has a UV light and a temperature of the tank around 70F with a heatmat in the corner of the tank. We bathe him in warm water twice a week.

Problem is, I have noticed that his eye looks a bit sticky, and it takes him significantly longer to open it after hibernation (which he gets a lot of), this morning, the eye also started watering and I am worried that something might not be right. His shell is not soft however his skin is a bit dry. Is this a cause for concern? And if so, what should be done?

Hi Michael,

A few things that you mentioned in your post concern me.  First, when you say "spacious tank," could you clarify what you mean?  In general, tortoises don't do well in tanks, although a very large tank (100 gallons or larger) is probably acceptable.  Generally, though, it's better to have them in something open and airy, with opaque sides.  For an adult Hermann's, the minimum size is about 5 x 3, but bigger is better.  Ideally, there should also be an outdoor pen for the warmer months so that the tortoise can get natural sunlight and graze.

You didn't mention what kind of substrate you're using, but it should be something that will hold some moisture.  I use a 50/50 mix of coir and playsand, and keep it a bit moist at all times to help avoid dehydration.  The symptoms you describe could be caused by lack of moisture in the enclosure.

When you say temperature of 70 degrees, could you say exactly what you mean--air temperature, basking temperature, etc.?  What you want is a basking temperature (on the substrate under the basking bulb) of about 90 degrees, with cooler areas of about 70 degrees.  An overall substrate temperature of 70 degrees is much too cool.  If a tortoise can't warm itself properly, it will be sluggish, not eat, and may become ill.  The way you describe your setup, there isn't enough basking heat.  Get rid of the heat mat (warmth should come from above), and provide a basking bulb instead.  If you can, I'd get a combination heat/UVB (not UV) bulb such as the ZooMed Powersun.  

You do need to change the diet.  Lettuce is OK occasionally, but as it's not very nutritious should not be the staple diet.  Kale is OK, but cabbage should be fed rarely and cucumber not at all.  Instead, the base diet should be turnip and mustard greens, kale, collards, endive, raddichio, dandelion, chicory, and as many weeds as you can feed (sow thistle, mallow, plantain, hawkbit, and so forth).  Give plenty of variety, as much as you can.  Instead of adding supplements, put a cuttlebone in the tank so he can self-regulate his calcium intake.  

I am also concerned by what you mean by "hibernation."  Hibernation is a very specific winter process triggered by cold temperatures, but house temperatures are not cold enough.  It sounds as though he is slugglish because his tank is too cool.  As I mentioned above, this will cause lack of appetite and lethargy (NOT hibernation), and if it goes on for a sustained period of time, can eventually lead to significant loss of weight and illness.  So it's very important to make sure the temperatures are correct.

So yes, you should be worried, but I think that if you correct the issues with his enclosure his condition will improve significantly.  If you have questions about what to do, or if he doesn't become significantly better after you make the changes (give it a week or two), please post back and I'll do what I can to help.


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Questions regarding husbandry of Russian tortoises and other Mediterranean species, sulcata, and redfoot tortoises; general tortoise and turtle care; box turtle care. If I can't answer a specific question, I can provide sources for further research. Disclaimer: My advice is not a substitute for vet care. If I think your tortoise/turtle has a specific medical condition or injury that warrants a vet visit, I'll tell you so, and if possible I'll help you locate a vet. It is neither legal nor ethical for me to provide veterinary advice.


I have kept and bred Russian tortoises for over ten years and have other Mediterranean species plus redfoots and box turtles. I've worked with other tortoise and turtle species while doing volunteer rescue work; mostly sulcata but some leopards, California desert tortoises, yellowfoots, all box turtle species, red-eared sliders, etc. I don't personally keep aquatic species, but have access to a wealth of information and research to help you with any questions you might have.

My knowledge is based on hands-on experience keeping, breeding, and working with tortoises and turtles.

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